Livin’ Large

A stranger’s furrowed brow, faltering voice, eyes locked on mine helped to make the message unvarnished. His partner silent, shaking her head in disbelief, a Sharpie style embellishment of clarity.

“Your place is beautiful, so many huge trees, private and beautiful, secluded but easy access, storage buildings… but your house! No dish washer, no garbage disposal, no walk-in closets, one TV and only one bathroom? Sorry, but this is just too primitive for us.”

Primitive? I live in primitive conditions?

Take another look.

My Halloween tree, craggy and huge, is home to an owl…night music for the velvet hours spend in the Sunday Room, a large sun room named by a three-year old just learning the days of the week. Sycamore shade keeps the room cool in summer protected in winter. Red-bud trees announce spring along with oak leaves that hold until those red-buds blossom.

A real barn, red and tin roofed, may now be emptied of lifetime collections but it is safe harbor to memories, to a karma of diverse talents and fierce determination to solve any problem.

We washed dishes together, he meticulous with scalding water and me with quick hands and ragged towels. What mechanical thing could replace that time?

Each room bustles with constant and sustaining memories. Family, children, their spouses, grandchildren, friends and neighbors push back against the walls of this house making a mansion where walk-in closets need not apply. Even that one bathroom proved to be a miracle of scheduling, taking turns, learning to G.I. shower during crowded holiday visits.

Among my Catholic friends, a particular practice involving St. Joseph is about 100% guaranteed success. When a home goes on the market, a statue of St. Joseph is buried in the yard to insure a quick sell. Several friends check weekly to see if I have handled that particular real estate boon, promising that it is more important than half empty rooms, bright lights, stashed family photos and a fresh cookie smell.

And still I resist, making little effort to acquire that stature of the saint, even if I knew where to buy it. The For Sale sign persists in advertising my primitive living conditions while I keep reliving volumes of sharing my life with Bob and our family–most definitely Living Large.

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The Cough Drop

Finding this new blog rhythm has been difficult. It wasn’t always so. Months to years I wrote most days, often trivial, sometimes touching a heart. Early morning hours prior to this “After Bob” passage were good for finding voice. Much of the voice died with him.

Don’t.
Don’t was a scribbled list started as I walked to the car for an early appointment. Don’t Cry Today. Don’t Think Sad Thoughts. Don’t BE Sad. Don’t Remember. Don’t Make Any Mistakes. Don’t Notice The Empty Spot At Your Side.
Don’t. I can be so impossibly annoying….so add that to the Don’t List. Don’t Be Annoying. A blog was forming.

A blog was forming, a blog destined to be felled by a cough drop, an exquisite cough drop shared by a friend via email.

Don is a talented friend, a man who trusts his emotions and cherishes his family both in the present and in collected memory.

Some years ago, Don visited his Aunt Ljubica . A survivor of a Fascist Concentration Camp, Ljubica was living in France. Don remembers her as a gentle soul with the soft edges honed in a life of kindness despite hardship.

As was the custom, the Ljubica’s family lined up to present gifts, shared an embrace and experience leave-taking. Ljubica, slowed by age and the injuries of the camp, had no gift. Her face, beautiful in its capture of time and experience suddenly remembered that she did have a gift. Painfully, slowly she struggled up the stairs, hobbled into her room and descended with the precious gift clutched in her hand.

With joy, with a flourish, Aunt Ljubica handed her love to Don, a box of her favorite cough drops. The power and the simplicity of love is astounding.

Yesterday’s Gone

Yesterday’s Gone. Song lyric? Think it is. Know it should be. Yesterday.

Everyone has a yesterday, one to touch with nostalgia. Even an unfulfilled yesterday is a respite from the newest today.

Yesterday’s blog was lame. It didn’t come close to what was waiting.
For weeks, this spot stood fallow, lost in the yesterdays of so many people who I love–family/friends, the church of my formation, the community both local and global.

When there is nothing to say, we don’t seem to know silence. We grasp at the inane rather than simply hold a hand or hold the phone. That is a good thing even though it shouts at our inadequacy to do much more than care.

Valiant has a tradition of matching with war, with swords and guns and horrible battles. That is not right.

Valiant is a word for keeping on keeping on, for men and women who step up when slipping away would be so easy. Valiant is day after day after day of staying because leaving would simply trade pain.

There are no words to sooth the deep depression of those we love. We try. We stumbled along, but there are no words. When distance means that words are all we have–and there are no words— we feel the depth of inadequacy. So we talk along, trusting that our love and support are felt, knowing that more is required.

Private, Inescapable, Ubiquitous

Grief. Sorrow. Sadness. Loss.
Inescapable.
Every life tastes the bitter; serious health threats, death, loss, feeling trapped by circumstance.

Every life stumbles on the communication that might heal with understanding. Every life must find the safest way to dismantle anger.

One of the worst days is the day when awareness folds down, enveloping the belief that wholeness can ever happen, the belief that time has any power to heal. The trap suffocates.

Grief festers contaminated, cluttered with wrong assumptions, with feeling ripped raw, with a loneliness that diminishes light, leaves physical and emotional exhaustion.

Experience allows no deception–people don’t like tears. Some dismiss the need for memories, discount the search for the comfort of answers when there are none. Friends hurry past tossing out a caring pretense, choosing to ignore, wondering at the weakness that takes so long to heal. They tire of the unraveling. They tire quickly.

Those who might have shared worship question the depth of sorrow and loneliness. Some want to patch with platitude and scoff at sorrow that reduces platitudes to emptiness.

A few professional mourners constantly play one-up-man-ship, as in “My life’s sadder than your life…let me pour it out”. Their lives scorched, locked on hold, never able to give.

Getting over grief is not the point, not even a possibility.

Getting though grief is the only way round, the only way to understanding. Time cannot be the measure. Touchstones are the measure.

Touchstones, many so brief that the power comes later, are the only measure.

Sons are a Touchstone, phoning when there is little to say but much to communicate…checking in, making contact, holding a long distance hand. Sons who come to work, and stay to comfort. Sons who tiptoe away from judgment yet always respond to any request. Sons are responsible for most of the good days.

Grandchildren who smile, who comfort with their youth, who let me love them as they are, stand firm as Touchstones.

There are friends who do not let you down. Old friends who offer a rare Thursday off to do whatever, who give perfect gifts of time and thoughtfulness are Touchstones. Friends who understand depression and know when to step in and when to stay on hold are Touchstones. Friends who phone or email, so the thread is unbroken, are Touchstones. Friends who share exclusive time and attention are a rare gift in a multi-tasking world.

Neighbors who mean every nuance of “Let me know if there is anything we can do” are Touchstones.

Healing, surviving, is a private process and becoming one’s personal Touchstone is required. Be easy. Offer the care you need, for body, emotional and spiritual. You are the only one capable of doing it exactly right. You are the one person who understands. Ask for what you need. Give way your anger and helplessness. Find your Touchstones.

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When The Going Gets Tough

When the going gets tough this stutter-stepper gets more than I deserve, a gentle push, a leg-up to a new awareness, giant steps of help most needed.

On Friday, Mark drove nine hours to get here so he could spend nine more hours driving Miss Daisy (moi) to look at real estate.  He knows the city, my budget, my temperament and my tangent jumping mind.  His notebook was filled with possibilities by zip code.  At 2:00, Saturday, he redid the nine-hour trip back to his home.    He actually helped me find two perfect houses:  the one I now live in and another about 15 minutes from this home.

My current  home is perfect in every way— except for long-term old person independence which will be an issue in the unforeseeable future.  The 15 minute trip takes me to a place where that old person independence would be stretched a bit, give me more years with less upkeep.

One of my major stutters is getting ready for an auction spelled with an ‘o’ as in overwhelming.  With his usual calm, Chris laid out a plan so perfect in simplicity, a reality check for me that  defined doable.

During all my self-imposed drama, I knew I could call neighbors Steve/Lisa and Dave/Laurie.  They would talk me down from uncertainty about 101 property and maintenance issues.

Bob’s voice lingers.  “We don’t need to bother people.  We can handle this together, by ourselves.”    Right–when there was a ‘we’.   I am inching closer to those phone calls.

On Wednesday, Chris gave me Cub Cadet Lesson 101 and I cut half of the 2.34 acres without damaging anything but my hearing.  Duh.  Ear plugs?  Ear muffs?  Next time.

Well, to tell the truth, my mowing might have been less than perfect, better described as ragged.   A very few days after I mowed, I decided on a short escape-from-reality-fake-errand, one of those times when getting away was mandatory.   Returning,  I drove up the long driveway.  A red mower flashed behind one of the sheds.  Wait a minute–my mower is yellow and I’m not on it.

Brian, another neighbor, handled the grass to crisp, clean perfection.  Speechless.  I was speechless.  He just did it.  Brian used his Sunday afternoon to mow this place in addition to his own multi-acres.

Indeed, with my family and my neighbors, this house is close to perfect.

I  want to be independent, to depend on resources that I muster, relying on myself by doing, or by compensating for the labor of others.  It is tough, but after a brief hiatus from reality, I am going again.  And this new chapter of going is definitely not because I am tough.  Rather it is because I am surrounded by walls of strength.

If Ever I Would Leave You…

it would never be in springtime….

Bob rarely talked of favorite music but he listened with a practiced ear and knowledge of the beauty.  He even owned a bust of Beethoven, which I rudely relegated to the attic.  Shame on me.

Once, a very long time ago, he gave me a record—“If Ever I Would Leave You.”  The words are breaking my heart.  I miss him more in this moment than I have on any day since he did leave me–in autumn, our favorite season.

Every spring, we worked the place side by side, sometimes late into the evening.  I can hardly stand it right now, knowing that I have to handle it alone yet absolutely knowing that I cannot handle it without him.

Sam, age 4, is having a sleep-over and I have struggled with fighting the tears, hiding the emotional stuff.  About two hours ago, I saw Bob standing in the yard, dumb slouch farmer hat, hitching his jeans, and chugging water.  Talk about choked up.   About that moment, Sam asked me something about his water shooter and my answer stopped him short.

“What voice is that, Nana?  Where is your real voice?  That voice was crackly?”  This from a little boy who still believes that Papa will get away from those guys keeping him in heaven, that Papa will come back to us.

Maybe.  Maybe Sam knows something I need to learn.

…it would never be in springtime.  No, I could never leave in springtime…

Rings On My Finger

I am a chronologically old woman, 7 decades measured and counting. Growing up in a nurturing protected neighborhood, that mythical village, my siblings and I shared the blessing of never having quite enough, of always being required to try harder.

Political correctness came long  years later and our discipline included the occasional ‘good spanking’ to teach a lesson.   The culture of that time believed in ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’, especially in questions of attitude.  Mom and Dad struggled as the country climbed from the depression, giving us the best that was theirs to give.

We received our early formal education and training from women of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.    Jesuits and Benedictines handled a large part of our college educations.  Discipline and humility held up the foundation.

Two marriages to two good men gave my life balance, reality checks and the richness of ‘for better and for worse’.   Each marriage extended my  family and I am grateful for what I have learned from each member of that very large group.

Marriage gave me the most precious gifts of my life–my five children.  Each of them fills me with awe and appreciation.  Their gifts are strong and enduring.  Life situations have not always treated them gently, but they handle what happens and they move through it.

My education provided me with a paycheck for doing what I would liked to have been able to do for free.  Teaching was a 28 year ‘fire-in-the-belly’ that never banked.

Through my time from childhood to crone I have often been overwhelmed by the generosity of  friends, colleagues, neighbors and acquaintances.   These past four months are powerful life lessons in the blessings of enduring support.

And now?  Now I am Grandma/Nana.  No one could be more blessed by the lives of the five grandchildren who gave me my new titles.  With my wedding band, I wear a five stone mother’s ring given to me about 30 years ago.  Next to those two rings,  I wear a five stone grandmother’s ring that I gave to myself 18 years ago.

Rings on my finger, blessing of my life.